Today I found out via Baseball Musings that former Yankee slugger Johnny Blanchard passed away. My thoughts go out to his family. Even though he was a reserve player a good fifty years ago, I have always had an interest in Blanchard. It’s a bit of a long story.
As a kid, I had an Apple IIGS computer. One day, my dad bought me the Apple II version of a baseball simulator called Earl Weaver Baseball. A good twenty years later, I’m still involved in sim baseball because of that game.
The Apple version of Earl Weaver Baseball only shipped with two teams. Playing games with the same two teams can get old really quickly. Luckily, Electronic Arts also sold stats disks. I started off by getting the 1988 season stats disk. I played that one to death. I remember the quirks like Jose Canseco being impossible to catch stealing or Jose Rijo being an absolute EWB god.
Next, I purchased a stats disk of the best teams in baseball history. I believe there were nearly 100 teams on there. I picked a subset of some of my favorites (1967 Red Sox, 1927, 1921, and 1961 Yankees, Big Red Machine, a Braves team from the 1950s, the 1906 Cubs, and more) and put them up against a team of my friends (yes, I loved that you could create players in EWB!). There was something about the 1961 Yankees that intrigued me. The absolute power. The story of Mantle and Maris. So much to love there.
I played tons of games with these teams and got to know about Johnny Blanchard. I love catchers, and there’s just something about a backup catcher who crushes 21 homers in 243 at bats en route to a .613 slugging percentage. Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, and Blanchard each hit 20 homers that year. It sounds cool to say three catchers did it, but the truth is Berra only caught 15 games.
How good was Blanchard’s 1961 season? From a WAR (wins above replacement player) perspective, he was worth 3.1 wins. Pretty remarkable for a role player. Also impressive when you see that Blanchard’s career WAR is 2.7. So, take out 1961 and he was actually negative for his career.
You might say his incredible 1961 season actually started during the 1960 World Series. In 11 at bats, Blanchard hit .455/.455/.636. That continued in the 1961 October beating of the Cincinnati Reds. Blanchard hit .400 in ten at bats with a double and two homers. In 29 career World Series at bats (in five Series), he hit .345/.387/.690.
Watching the film 61*, it was a treat to see Johnny head into a game (played by Brendan McCarthy). Brought back memories of when I was the kid at the baseball card show buying a 1962 Topps Johnny Blanchard card.
Johnny, you’ll be missed.